First published back in January of 1991, British horror author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Renegades’ was the first book in the author’s series involving Counter Terrorist Unit agent Sean Doyle.   The tale was followed on with the novels ‘White Ghost’ (1994), Knife Edge (1997) and Hybrid (2002) in which the character of Sean Doyle continued as the principal protagonist.

DLS Synopsis:
In Brittany, France, an ancient church stands empty, with a past which the nearby villagers of Machecoul wish could be long forgotten.  The church’s former owner was the infamous fourteenth century ghoul known as Gilles de Rais.  A man supposedly responsible for the murder of over two-hundred children.  A beast who was eventually burned at the stake for his horrific crimes.

Whilst on holiday in Brittany, historian and senior lecturer at Balliol, Mark Channing, has come to Machecoul in the hope of seeing for himself the legendary church that until now he had only ever read about.  And it’s not long before he has uncovered a secret stained-glass window that has remained encased in stone since the time of Gilles de Rais.  A stained-glass window depicting a grotesque beast holding a child in its clawed hand.  A piece of horrifying artwork that was no doubt commissioned by de Rais himself.

Meanwhile, in the space of just forty-eight hours, a total of twenty-three people have been murdered at Stormont in Northern Ireland, and a large quantity of Semtex has been unearthed from within London.  All of this whilst it was looking like the IRA were on the cusp of actually establishing a peace agreement with the British government.  Sean Doyle from the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) is heading up the investigation, and together with the aid of his colleague, Georgina Willis, the two travel to Northern Ireland to get to the bottom of those behind the recent acts of violence.  

However, back in Brittany and Claude Lausard has heard about Channing’s discovery.  After viewing the stained-glass window for himself courtesy of Channing and his art historian and medievalist friend Catherine Roberts, the Frenchman contacts thirty-six year old millionaire gun-runner, David Callahan, who he knows will be more than a little interested in the recent discovery.

Together with David Callahan’s wife, thirty-two year old Laura Callahan, the wealthy young couple have spent their lives searching for the ultimate thrill.  Together trying out every substance, every possible experience, no matter how expensive, perverted or taboo.  Searching for the supreme experience.  In her endless pursuit, Laura Callahan has immersed herself in death, visiting countless sights of murder and torture to add the mementos to her growing morbid collection.  And the discovery of a stained-glass window that once belonged to the infamous child-murdering Gilles de Rais is an irresistible addition for her.

But Callahan’s recent activity hasn’t gone unnoticed.  The Irish gun-runner has now come on to the radar of Sean Doyle.  In the CTU agent’s investigations into the recent IRA attacks, the trail has led him to Callahan.  A man who it now turns out is himself being targeted by a renegade group of hired killers.

An unholy secret that has lain dormant for countless years is on the verge of being unleashed.  And Doyle is about to find out that the power behind it all is a lot more terrifying than simple modern-day terrorism.  Death is suddenly everywhere...

DLS Review:
For the first third (or s0) of the novel, Hutson has pretty much split the tale into three, with Channing’s findings in Machecoul being the slowest and most ill-fitting of the three plotlines.  It
s Sean Doyle’s high-adrenaline plot-thread as well as the Callahan couple’s own twisted storyline what really keep the novel pushing forwards through these preliminary pages.  Indeed, the Sean Doyle chapters are very rarely anything but laced from start to finish with action, gritty aggression or speeding towards another confrontation.  On the other hand the Callahan chapters gradually build with a dark intrigue into the perverse desires of this incredibly wealthy criminal couple.

Of course all three plotlines will eventually converge.  It takes a good third of the novel before they do, but once the main plot is fully established, the tale picks up the pace with considerable gusto, with action and bloodshed around almost every corner.

Hutson’s characterisation of our principal protagonist – Sean Doyle - is the usual slightly-clichéd gritty anti-hero, with a heck of a chip on his shoulder and the balls to get stuck straight into the explosive madness, no matter what the threat level is.

The story utilises a similar structure to many of Hutson’s later novels; first building upon a thriller style of storyline in which the roots of the plot are initially set down, before bringing in the supernatural/horror elements that firmly pigeonhole the storyline into the genre that Hutson is most acquainted with.  And to be honest there’s really nothing wrong with this tried-and-tested approach at all.

Admittedly, some of the ‘horror’ elements do come across as a little on the cheesy side, with the stained-glass window coming to life being a prime example of losing the scare factor and replacing it with a slightly camp B-Movie horror scene.  But this is not to say that Hutson doesn’t pull off an all-round high-octane melange of action and mayhem, with terrorist shenanigans and death-worshipping thrown in for good measure.

It’s the neck-breaking pace and explosively snappy chapters, each pumping out their own edge-of-the-seat cliff-hangers, which really makes the novel a success.  And with so much always going on, there’s hardly any time for the reader to take a breath before the next maniacal twist in the plot is underway.

With such a wildly-action-rich storyline, it soon becomes apparent to the reader that almost anything can happen; any slight degree of predictability completely thrown out the window.  And from the moment the fun-and-games commences, Hutson just keeps his foot pressed firmly down on the well-worn accelerator, hurtling forwards with violence, horror and page-gripping excitement until the finale bursts upon the reader with a delightfully dramatic ending in the bag.

The novel runs for a total of 336 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Sean Doyle’ instalments:

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